Sunday, 9 November 2008

Borders for Israel

[The accompanying image is a photo taken by the author in the east Jerusalem neighbourhood of Sur Bahir; it depicts posters of Hussam Dwaith, the first Jerusalem bulldozer terrorist and former resident of Sur Bahir, and Yasser Arafat on the shutters of a closed shop.]

The case of Jerusalem can seem like an irresolvable mess. All one needs to do is consider the complexities of the interactions of what are essentially three different borders in Jerusalem—the green line, the municipal boundary, and the security barrier—to see how sticky it all is. But I believe that there is one principle which Israel must follow if she is to have any chance of improving this situation. The principle is that of clear boundaries, both in terms of territory and of citizenship.

There currently exist three basic categories of territory and of Arab population: (a) the territory and population which have been inside Israel since 1948, (b) those which have been in Israeli only since 1967 (by virtue of the largely unrecognised annexation of east Jerusalem), (c) and those which have been simply occupied since 1967. As if this degree of complexity were not bad enough, the latter two categories—the annexed and the occupied—are now further subdivided in the Jerusalem area by the separation barrier, which runs alternately inside and outside of Jerusalem's eastern municipal boundary, the annexation line.

My point here is most certainly not that I'm against the fence, because I'm not; my point is that Israel needs clear and simple distinctions. There must be no more than two classes of territory and of people as far as Israel is concerned, not three, four, or five. Today there are Arabs inside Israel (living under Israeli law) who are not given their due by the Israeli state, and there are Arabs outside of Israel for whom Israel takes responsibility (it provides food, power, a degree of governance, etc.). Israel must move towards a situation in which every Arab in the world is either a citizen or not, and all territory in the world is either sovereign or not. These clear distinctions must be reinforced by government policies giving Arab citizens perfectly egalitarian treatment both in terms of rights and duties, and non-citizens nothing. Israel must begin immediately to move towards a situation in which every Arab citizen is provided all the basic civic services (such as garbage collection, water supply, municipal zoning, public schools, passports) and civil rights (such as the right to vote and stand for election in both municipal and national elections) and is simultaneously required to perform some form of national service equivalent to the service owed by Jewish citizens. Meanwhile, non-citizens would receive nothing from the state, and residence in Beit Jala would give them no more claim to Israeli state services than would living in Canada. Naturally, we should strive for a situation in which all citizens reside on sovereign Israeli territory and all non-citizens do not.

The current situation in lacking in many respects. Some Arab citizens are provided substandard state services and few are required to perform any national service. Worst of all, the Arabs of east Jerusalem live under a legal regime devised specifically for them which gives them some, but not all, of the rights of citizenship. Meanwhile Arabs in places such as Gaza continue to demand and receive Israeli resources.

Today's messy situation with its multiple in-between categories, both of territory and of people, is encouraging Israeli-Arabs, east Jerusalem Arabs, and Palestinians to coalesce into a single hostile population which either straddles Israel's border or is entirely within Israel, depending on how one views things. It is hard to imagine a greater threat to the core Zionist principle of Jewish political sovereignty in the Land of Israel than such a simultaneously inside-and-outside hostile population. The only feasible and moral way to control this threat to distinguish as forcefully as possible between the Arabs who are in and those who are out; the country needs thus needs borders.

Ariel Sharon, in his autobiography, 'Warrior,' frames the question of the Israeli Arabs in an evocative manner. He says (note that he was writing in the late 1980s), that with the Palestinians, Israel has numerous options for conflict resolution, but with the Israeli Arabs, there is no other option but co-existence. Should they become implacably hostile, the Jews will either lose the country or forcefully expel the Arabs, and neither of these scenarios is acceptable. The process which is underway now, set in motion by the great victory of the Six-Day War and of successive Israeli governments' unwillingness to face the hard choices brought about by that victory, are gradually leading to a situation in which the non-citizen Palestinian Arabs are becoming more hostile to the State of Israel, and the citizen Israeli Arabs are becoming more at one with the Palestinians.

The situation is one which requires a combination of rapid action and long-term planning. Neither the left-wing approach of hoping against hope that genuine agreement with the Palestinians can be reached, nor the right-wing approach of hoping against hope that neither the world nor the immutable principles of human morality will notice if Israel retains control of occupied land without resolving the status of the people who live on that land has any chance of improving the situation, let alone resolving it.

A long-term plan, implemented in a largely unilateral manner, and based on the foundational understanding that the current Palestinian polity will agree to neither (a) a permanent Israeli presence in Judea and Samaria nor to (b) an Israeli withdrawal from these areas, must be developed and put into action with as much coordination as possible with Israel's allies. The core goal of such a plan must be to create a clear eastern border for Israel. No clean solution to Israel's problems is within reach, but movement in the right direction is quite possible.


Erin said...

i wonder if collapsing these numerous civil categories into a more hard-and-fast borders (both civil and geographic) would do more to exacerbate existing fissures than to soothe them. i agree whole heartedly that boundaries ought to be drawn for the sake not only of the ruling cadre but for the psychological state people living within all these areas, but it seems to me that your argument calls for both types of borders to be re/drawn more or less simultaneously. to play devil's advocate, do you think a
'civil border' (i.e. declaration of two defined categories of citizen instead of several) and a territorial border should be drawn and imposed in any specific order?

Oliver Moore said...

My main purpose is to define the correct direction in which Israel must start to move. Continuation of the status quo is the wrong direction, as is a one-state solution. The right direction for Israel is toward clearly established borders, both civil, as you say, and territorial. Once this broad direction has been established, it will be necessary to start getting the whole policy-making and implementing machinery of the Israeli state (and any other state willing to listen) moving in that direction. Unfortunately, we're still at the stage of arguing about which way to go, and that means we're standing still, and as I said above, the status quo is a direction in itself, and a dangerous one.

No, I don't think the civil or territorial should, for any essential reason, have priority. They're equally important and must be brought into convergence.

Your point about whether collapsing categories would exacerbate rather than soothe is interesting. It's a good point. Notice that I didn't say which way all these categories should be collapsed. For example, should the east Jerusalem Arabs lose the partial citizenship they now have, or should they be given full citizenship? I don't know. A bit of both maybe. What I'm dealing with is the question of principle: such an intermediate category must not exist; it amounts to second-class citizenship... I goes without saying that it should be collapsed in the way which is best overall, and certainly the most important factor going into "best" is soothing fissures, as you so well put it.

Rashed said...

Hi, Oliver,

A little correction: Israel annexed East Jerusalem in 1980, not in 1967, although, obviously, it did occupy it in 1967.

As for the best disengagement scenario, I completely disagree with you on the idea that "the current Palestinian" polity will not accept the permanence of the State of Israel in its pre-1967 borders. As you've probably heard, President Mahmoud Abbas sponsored an ad in major Hebrew newspapers in Israel explaining the 2002 Saudi peace plan to Jewish Israelis. According to this plan, which every single Arab country has agreed with (along with Fatah), every Arab state would recognise Israel (except for Egypt and Jordan, which already do so), and would establish full diplomatic and trading ties with it, if Israel withdraws to its pre-1967 borders. Shimon Peres has recently personally praised King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia for the plan. I think this plan is the only reasonable basis for a permanent peace.

Oliver Moore said...

Hi there Rashed, I'm glad to see you here! I think you're right about '67 and '80; the fact is that I remain a little confused. Israel effected changes to the legal status of Jerusalem in both 67 and 80. But I'm a little unclear on exactly what was done when.

As to your second point, my contention, that you refer to, is that radical/terrorist/rejectionist elements are too strong within the Palestinian polity (a term I use merely to denote those in Palestinian society who hold power) to make a negotiated settlement possible. The Arab side has long negotiated, when it has negotiated, merely for the process, and not for the result. The second intifada proved this. The fact that not a single official Palestinian voice (that I can remember) welcomed the Gaza disengagement proved it.

Since Israel's traumatic awakening by the second intifada, Israel now also negotiates for the process (unlike in the stary-eyed '90s), though she still hopes for the result.

You might say to me that a negotiated settlement is also rendered impossible by elements within the Israeli polity. I think this would be partly right; it would depend on the national mood and on the terms of the agreement.

The major failing of the Saudi peace plan is that it was presented as a take it or leave it offer. It should be obvious that this is tantamount to making no offer at all, which is what allowed it to gain such broad support among the Arabs.

What I think is important, Rashed, for two guys like us to agree on, is that there must be a clear border between Israeli and Palestinian territory and citizens, such than each nation has a chance at sovereignty. I'm guessing you agree with this principle. I think unilateral Israeli action is the best way we have to overcome terrorist opposition to this principle.